Being a student athlete at Cal Poly is demanding. Scheduling all of the usual responsibilities of being a student at a four-year university around daily 5 a.m. practices and weight training sessions can feel like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
For Cal Poly football’s star, senior fullback Joe Protheroe, this equation is even more complex.
Sociology senior Protheroe is married with two kids and has another on the way. His plan was to be on a plane signing a contract to play for an NFL team at this time. However, he’s currently in his duplex in San Luis Obispo with his wife, kids and four football roommates.
As temperatures soared to nearly triple-digits during an early-season matchup against the San Jose State Spartans, the Mustangs’ hopes for the 2017 campaign were still riding high after a playoff berth in 2016. But while the air outside continued to bake the turf field, the team’s momentum from last year nearly evaporated in front of their eyes.
“[I] got tackled while I was in mid-air and just felt a pop in my knee,” Protheroe said. “Then I knew at that point something was wrong.”
Protheroe tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the second game of his senior campaign, ending his season and what seemed to be his chance at playing in the NFL. The previous year Protheroe rushed for 1,334 yards and was an FCS first-team All American with an increasing likelihood of being drafted to play in the NFL.
His plans for not only his life, but his family’s life, were changed by that one play.
“I don’t really come from money, so like, what we get in the scholarship check is all I really got to work with,” Protheroe said. “That, and food stamps.”
Scholarship checks and food stamps are a big trade-off from private flights and room service, which is what Protheroe would be receiving right now had he not torn his MCL. However, Protheroe believes everything in life happens for a reason.
He was granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA and has the chance to come back and play a sixth season with Cal Poly football. Accepting the opportunity to play in a sixth season was an easy decision for Protheroe, especially with his family in mind.
“I want to give my daughters a better life than I had growing up,” Protheroe said.
With an injury to the Mustangs’ best player and offensive focal point, the team sputtered all year and ultimately finished the season 1-10, a far cry from the playoff berth they earned just one year earlier. With Protheroe back next season, the Mustangs are projected to be back in the playoff hunt.
Though he was unable to return to the field in 2017, Cal Poly football fans saw a glimpse of what is to come next year as Protheroe suited up in the spring football game in April. He only saw the field for one drive, but it was more than enough to reignite the Mustangs’ hopes for the fall.
“I’m stronger now after the surgery than I was before,” Protheroe said. “It was hard for me to get back mentally, being out of the game for a while. I feel better mentally and physically now.”
A Big West championship, national championship and shot at the NFL are all that are in Protheroe’s sights in this upcoming season. He not only has a team and school depending on him to get it done, but a family as well.